SPidge Tales

Monday, April 30, 2007

Thank God for the New York Yankees! (Yes, you heard that right)

“You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your [bleep]in' fingers and say, ‘That's the bad guy.’”—Tony Montana (Al Pacino), Scarface

The Yankees are in last place. Dead last. They lost 7 in a row last week, have currently lost 8 of 9, and stand at 9-14, a .391 winning percentage that ranks them as the third worst team in baseball, behind the perpetually putrid Nationals and Royals. As a Mets fan (and any baseball fan whose favorite team is NOT the Yankees), you would think this would bring me a measure of joy. Instead, I sit in sadness, writing this essay with a heavy heart.

Have I gone soft? Did I become one of those guys who root for all the local teams, hoping the Mets AND Yankees do well? No, I hate That Guy and so should you. There is room in America for many types of people, of all political and religious stripes, but there is no room for someone who can’t make up his mind choosing sports teams. I loath sports bigamists. For all self respecting sports fans (non-Yankees fans), you can breathe a sigh of relief. I still despise the Yankees. I still think Derek Jeter is the most overrated player (and the worst defensive shortstop) in baseball. I still hate that corporate arrogance espoused by all Yankees fans who choose to not hate other teams back, but rather condescendingly pity them. Boston fans know this like no other.

I simultaneously maintain my hatred of all things Yankee while lying in a state of dismay over the Yankees poor season start. You see, it’s not just that I hate the Yankees; I ENJOY hating the Yankees. But there needs to be a reason to hate them. I hate them because they spend way more money than all the other teams, they win 90 games and make the playoffs every year, and their fans condescend to you. I hate them because they act like they are entitled to championships, when I would be willing to trade getting stuck on a deserted island with Jessica Alba just for the chance to see the Mets win one title during my young adulthood. If the Yankees suck (a distinction from the YANKEES SUCK T-shirts, which imply sucking in the metaphorical sense described above; I’m talking literally now, in a wins and losses sense), then they become the Royals or the Arizona Cardinals or the L.A. Clippers. They would be objects of pity, not hate. Hate is enjoyable. Pity sucks the life out of both the pit-ee and the pity-er.

Sports are a metaphor for life (maybe not, but they should be). There are villains in real life, and there are bad guys in sports, real life’s metaphor. The Yankees, Duke basketball, and Notre Dame football serve as the athletic enemies of all things good and sporting. They have much wider fan bases than their geographical bases deserve. But, with other sports teams that have large fan networks extending beyond a team’s natural sphere of interest, they don’t harbor neutral feelings from other teams fans. No true sports fan is neutral to Duke, Notre Dame, or the Yankees. If you are not a direct fan, then you scorn the Blue Devils, Irish, and Bronx Bombers with your whole fiber of existence. Nothing is more enjoyable, save rooting for your own team and seeing your own team win, than rooting against the Yankees, Irish, and Blue Devils, and seeing them lose. Even if, say, you are a North Carolina fan, and you need Duke to beat Wake Forest to guarantee your Tar Heels first place, you will still root for Wake to defeat Duke. If you are a Red Sox fan, and the Yankees have the opportunity to beat, say, the Blue Jays and guarantee your beloved Boston a playoff spot, you will still root against the Yanks out of spite.

The paradox in this desire to see the Yankees, Notre Dame, and Duke lose is that in order to maintain this enjoyable hatred, they must NOT lose. They need to win—early, often, and regularly—or that hatred will recede. No one wants to see the Yankees win, but if they did not have those 26 World Series banners hanging in The House That Ruth Built, we wouldn’t hate them. Every good-hearted college basketball fan would not hate Duke if Mike Krzyzewski did not take them to 3 National Titles and countless Final Fours the past two decades. Deep down, even though we hate them, we wouldn’t really want them to lose.

The common man’s hatred of all things Yankee, Duke, and Notre Dame does not come just from their constant winning. It’s the way they win. There are other good basketball programs, such as Kansas, Kentucky, and UCLA. But Duke coach Krzyzewski can’t just win, he has to go on every commercial and rub it in our faces that he does things the “right” way, that he recruits true scholar athletes, and he gets all the clean cut polished McDonald’s All-Americans to sign with his program.

Nebraska, Penn State, and USC all have great football programs. But Notre Dame is hated because they are ALWAYS on TV, they are always played up in the media as college football royalty, and they always get to go to whatever bowl game they want, without the requirement to join a conference like every other major program in the country.

The Yankees can’t just win multiple pennants. We must constantly be bombarded with their “aura” of greatness, and we can’t go two commercial breaks without hearing about Babe Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Jeter.

So we don’t hate the Yankees just because they win. We hate them because of those other “qualities” that are rubbed in our faces. But, the catch is, they have to win, or else they would be an object of pity. All those annoying Yankee traits, such as not allowing the players to have facial hair, and no names on the jersey (as if that makes them better than other teams), would be still engendering nothing more than pity from us if they didn’t win. We can see this with Notre Dame. Hatred still exists, but it doesn’t seethe like Yankee or Duke hatred. Notre Dame hasn’t won a National Title in almost two decades, and hasn’t been relevant since the Bush I administration. Duke’s last title in 2001, and the Yanks last in 2000 are at least fresh in our minds. They are close enough to keep that hatred fueled.

In the 1990’s Duke won back-to-back titles with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grant Hill, and the Yankees won 4 titles in 5 years with the emergence of Derek Jeter and Joe Torre. Thankfully, this first decade of the 2000’s has been a reprieve from the horrific ‘90’s. Duke and the Yankees have been right where we want them to be. Duke is always ranked number one most of the season, and gets a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, only to lose in the Sweet 16, letting us bask in the glory of watching Coach Krzyzewski crying, hugging his token graduating white All-American senior (the role played in 2006 by J.J. Redick). The Yankees always sign the big name free agent who isn’t quite right for the team, and coast to the playoffs, where they choke and get upset before the World Series, leading George Steinbrenner to do his annual re-evaluation. They are good enough for us to hate, but not quite good enough for them to rub it in on us. But this year—2007—might ruin that.

Duke had a mediocre season and got upset in the first round in a game that really shouldn’t even be considered an upset. The Yankees have pitched 4 rookie starters and look like they will be lucky to get out of last place, let alone make the playoffs. If Charlie Weis can’t finally return Notre Dame to national title contender, there will be no one left to hate. This is a real existential crisis. We need our sports villains. The Yankees are That Guy at school who always gets the pretty girls. You know who I’m talking about. Billy Zabka played That Guy in The Karate Kid and a host of other ‘80’s teen movies. He is That Guy who goes to the gym with his hair perfectly gelled, and looks at himself flexing in the mirror. He is That Guy who always has that smile on his face that says “I know I’m getting the girl tonight, so me being nice to you is my way of looking down at you because you aren’t me.” We might think we’d be better of without him, but we need That Guy as an object of hate (and we know, realistically, if he wasn’t around, the pretty girls still wouldn’t go for us. They would conveniently happen to be in that period where they are “taking a break from dating”). But, here’s the caveat: we want That Guy to get the pretty girls. We want him to get all the pretty girls except for one. We DON’T want him to get the pretty girl we like (in case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been using the “Royal We” for some time now. By “we” I mostly mean “me”).

If That Guy couldn’t get the pretty girls, there would be no reason to hate him. He would be the Royals or the Clippers. And if he were the Royals or Clippers, and he did get the pretty girl, we couldn’t possible be mad. It would be like—you guessed it—seeing the Royals come out of nowhere to win the World Series. True, I would be disappointed like every other season the Mets don’t win it. But, it’s nice to see an underdog win and it’s always nice to see the Yankees NOT win the World Series. Sports fans collectively felt this in 2006 when the Tigers erased a decade of mediocrity with a trip to the World Series. So no, we don’t want to see That Guy go without. We want him to get pretty girls, just not the pretty girl of our dreams. And what if he does get the pretty girl of our dreams? What if That Guy ends up on top of the world, like the 1991-1992 Duke Blue Devils or the 1996-2000 Yankees? We can pray that he made a deal with the devil and has to pay some sort of price. As painful as it is to have seen the Yankees win the World Series 4 times in 5 years, it has been an utter delight to see them give up their team-first philosophy, buy me-first superstar free agents, and start losing every year in the playoffs. As awful as it was to see Duke go to all those Final Fours, every basketball fan can take solace in the fact that Duke superstars end up sucking in the NBA. Hello, Christian Laettner? If That Guy does get the pretty girl of our dreams, we can always hope he gets fat and bald and still wears his Varsity jacket at the 20-year class reunion.

The catch: there is always a fine line that must be balanced. The object of hatred (The Yankees/That Guy) must be good enough and obnoxious enough to warrant loathing, but not good enough to rub it in. But, even this does not suffice. If the Yankees continue this streak of going to the playoffs and losing, they will become the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Braves, objects of laughter, not hate. As much as it hurts to see them win the World Series, they need to win another one soon, or risk declining as an object of hate. Then again, maybe that is good thing. Yankees fans seem to enjoy our hatred of them. What could be better than having the opportunity to give them some condescending pity, a taste of their own medicine?


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